For a spot where a few hundred were fasting for a cause, the most striking and paradoxical sight was of as many feasting on the side. In those four days of fighting for the Lokpal Bill, there was a frenzied consumption of idli, vada and masala dosa that flew briskly off the counter of South India Snacks Centre on Jantar Mantar Road, Delhi.
Run out of an NDMC-allotted kiosk for the past 20 years, the centre has been famous in Delhi for its fresh and hot South Indian snacks, especially the coconut chutney that its proprietor C. Kesavan Kutty proudly claims is made with “95 per cent fresh coconut”, no dal added. The centre’s most dedicated and loyal customers are the officegoers from the neighbourhood who troop in regularly during lunch hour for the value-for-money meals (idli, vada for Rs 20, masala dosa for Rs 25, the price having remained constant in the last three years).
However, during the five days of Anna Hazare’s fast, the regulars went missing. “The road was blocked, and it was very crowded, so they didn’t come this way,” says Kutty. Regardless, he still logged in a 10 per cent increase in sales. “We got new customers and hope they’ll spread a good word about us and get us more customers,” he says. For a man who has witnessed many a dharna, anshan (fast) and protest at Jantar Mantar, Kutty is obviously impressed by Anna Hazare’s mode of dissent. “Nobody was brought here intentionally or forcefully. They all came on their own, because they passionately believed in what Hazare was fighting for,” he says. As for his own contribution to the cause, Kutty is quick to point out that the first meal of dal-chawal, for those who were fasting, was cooked at his stall.